In spite of the inauguration of the new Vélodrome National last month, Grégory Baugé believes that the level of support for French track riders is still some way behind what is on offer to their British counterparts.
The track at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines is the Paris area’s first permanent and regulation-length indoor velodrome in 55 years and while it marks progress for the French Federation, Baugé said that facilities alone were not enough.
“Yes, there’s a nice track but as I’ve said before, that’s not everything,” Baugé told L’Équipe ahead of this week’s world championships in Cali. “I’m French and I have the impression that, in my country, we’re standing still, we’re performing a track stand. I’m saying it clearly, we’re not there. I know that I am the strongest but you’re the good Frenchman who wants to do things within the rules and voilà.”
Asked if he was suggesting that the riders on the rival Great Britain track programme were doping, Baugé said: “Doping, that’s not what I’d put first.”
At the London 2012 Olympics, French team director Isabelle Gautheron publicly questioned whether the British team was riding regulation wheels – “Mavic wheels or magic wheels?” as the L’Équipe headline put it at the time – while Baugé himself took over from journalists during the press conference that followed his defeat in the sprint final, asking winner Jason Kenny a number of questions regarding his preparation.
Kenny’s only world championship gold medal before those Olympics had come when Baugé was handed a retroactive ban for recording three whereabouts violations and was stripped of his 2011 sprint world title.
“I haven’t heard anything about the wheels,” Baugé told L’Équipe. “But what I’ve felt is that they’re all rowing in the same direction, right down to the smallest details. We saw that that their athletes were there just to push on the pedals. At this level, you need 1% to make the difference between a gold medal and a silver medal.”
Baugé also revisited his surprise at losing so emphatically to Kenny at the London Olympics after beating him at the Worlds in Melbourne earlier that year: “Kenny, I never saw him like that… I knew that I was the best but I couldn’t even draw level with him!”
This week’s Worlds in Colombia mark Baugé’s first major championships appearance since he took time out after the London Olympics before deciding to continue building towards Rio 2016. In the intervening period, Florian Rousseau has stepped down as French coach and Baugé said that the jury is still out on his replacement, New Zealander Justin Grace.
“To say whether he’s the right person, honestly, I’m waiting for the world championships. The truth comes in competition. That’s where I judge a coach,” Baugé said. “I shouldn’t say that, but I think it’s normal to have a little doubt all the same… It was easier with Florian. I knew him, he knew me.”
Although part of the team sprint line-up, Baugé did not qualify for the individual sprint in Cali and said he was hampered by injury during the winter. “Given my condition, there’s no disappointment. I know that I won’t be Super Baugé in Cali,” he said, although the Frenchman struck a defiant note when he asked if he still considered himself the best sprinter in the world.
“It’s clear that, in my head, I’m the best,” Baugé said. “If the others don’t think so, it’s no big deal…”